what is dry cleaning

Dry cleaning, as opposed to common belief, is not a 'dry' process. It is a method of cleaning clothes and textiles using a chemical solvent rather than water. This process is mainly used for clothes that degrade in water, and delicate fabrics that cannot withstand the rough and tumble of a washing machine and clothes dryer.

History of Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning dates back to ancient times, with the Romans reportedly using ammonia derived from urine to clean woolen togas to prevent shrinkage. However, the modern process of dry cleaning using solvents was developed in the mid-19th century.

The Science Behind Dry Cleaning

The underlying science behind dry cleaning is the principle of 'like dissolves like.' The solvents used in dry cleaning are adept at dissolving greasy and oily stains which are not water-soluble. They penetrate the fibers of the fabric, dissolving the stains, and are then removed from the fabric, carrying the dirt and stains with them.

Dry Cleaning vs. Wet Cleaning: The Key Differences

While both methods aim to clean the clothes, the main difference lies in the medium used. Wet cleaning uses water and detergents, while dry cleaning utilizes chemical solvents. This makes dry cleaning more suitable for delicate, sensitive fabrics and for removing oil-based stains.

Materials Suitable for Dry Cleaning

Materials such as silk, wool, velvet, and other delicate fabrics are suitable for dry cleaning. These fabrics can lose their texture and shape in water and hence, dry cleaning is a safer alternative.

How a Dry Cleaning Machine Works

A dry cleaning machine works much like a combination of a washing machine and clothes dryer. The clothes are placed in a drum, and the cleaning process begins when the drum is filled with solvent.

Step-by-Step Process of Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning generally involves pre-treating stains, cleaning with solvents, post-spotting any remaining stains, and finally finishing by pressing or steaming the garments to remove wrinkles.

Chemicals Used in Dry Cleaning

Different chemicals, including perchloroethylene (perc), hydrocarbons, and D5 siloxane, are used in the dry cleaning process. Each has its pros and cons, and the choice of chemical often depends on the type of fabric and the nature of the stain.

The Role of Perc in Dry Cleaning

Perc (perchloroethylene) is the most commonly used dry-cleaning solvent. It is highly effective in removing stains and does not cause clothes to shrink or colors to fade.

The Environmental Impact of Dry Cleaning

Traditional dry cleaning methods using perc have been criticized for their environmental impact. Perc is classified as a hazardous air pollutant and can contaminate air, ground and water resources.

Green Dry Cleaning: An Eco-Friendly Alternative

In response to the environmental concerns raised by traditional dry cleaning, green dry cleaning has emerged. It uses environmentally friendly solvents like liquid carbon dioxide and wet cleaning that are safer for the environment and human health.

How to Choose a Reliable Dry Cleaning Service

When choosing a dry cleaning service, consider factors like reputation, services offered, turn-around time, pricing, and whether they follow environmentally friendly practices.

Preparing Your Clothes for Dry Cleaning

Before taking your clothes to a dry cleaner, ensure to empty the pockets, remove belts or other accessories, and point out any stains or areas of concern to the cleaner.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Dry Cleaning

One common mistake people make is waiting too long to clean a stained garment. The longer a stain sits on a fabric, the more difficult it becomes to remove.

Benefits of Professional Dry Cleaning

Professional dry cleaning services offer numerous benefits. They can effectively remove tough stains, protect the integrity of delicate fabrics, and save you time and effort.

Common Misconceptions About Dry Cleaning

Some misconceptions about dry cleaning include the belief that it is an entirely dry process, and that it's only necessary for occasional wear or delicate fabrics.

Dry Cleaning Vs. Laundry: What’s the Difference?

While laundry typically involves washing clothes with water and detergent, dry cleaning uses a chemical solvent to clean clothes. Another key difference is that laundry can often lead to shrinkage or color bleeding, issues that are less common with dry cleaning.

Dry Cleaning and Stain Removal

Dry cleaning solvents are particularly effective at removing greasy, oily stains. However, not all stains can be removed through dry cleaning and may require special treatments.

Decoding Dry Cleaning Symbols on Clothing Tags

Clothing tags often come with dry cleaning symbols. Understanding these symbols can help determine the best cleaning methods for your garments and avoid potential damage.

How Dry Cleaning Affects Fabric Longevity

When used correctly, dry cleaning can help maintain the integrity of fabrics, keep colors bright, and even extend the life of garments by effectively removing stains without damaging the material.

Cost of Dry Cleaning

The cost of dry cleaning can vary widely based on factors such as the type of garment, the fabric, the location of the service, and the type of stains present on the garment.

Tips for Choosing a Dry Cleaner

Key tips for choosing a dry cleaner include considering their experience, checking reviews and ratings, understanding their process, and considering their turn-around time and pricing.

DIY Dry Cleaning: Is it Possible?

While DIY dry cleaning is possible with at-home kits, they are typically less effective than professional services. They can be a viable option for freshening up lightly-soiled garments but may not be as effective at removing stains or for cleaning delicate fabrics.

Future of Dry Cleaning: Technology and Innovations

The future of dry cleaning lies in the adoption of more environmentally friendly practices and technological advancements. Green dry cleaning and online dry cleaning services are some of the emerging trends in the industry.

Dry cleaning is a unique method of garment cleaning that uses chemical solvents instead of water. It is a preferred choice for cleaning delicate and expensive fabrics. However, with environmental concerns and the advancement of technology, the industry is continually evolving, paving the way for greener and more efficient methods.


  1. What exactly is dry cleaning?

    Dry cleaning is a method of cleaning clothes and textiles using a chemical solvent rather than water.

  2. Is dry cleaning really dry?

    Though it is called 'dry' cleaning, the process isn't entirely dry. It uses a liquid solvent. The term 'dry' is used because it does not involve water.

  3. What kinds of materials can be dry cleaned?

    Materials like silk, wool, velvet, and other delicate fabrics that can lose their texture and shape in water are suitable for dry cleaning.

  4. Are the chemicals used in dry cleaning safe?

    While the chemicals used in dry cleaning are effective at cleaning, they pose certain environmental and health concerns. Green dry cleaning methods using safer solvents are emerging as alternatives.

  5. How often should I dry clean my clothes?

    It largely depends on the type of garment and its usage. For instance, suits typically require dry cleaning after three to four wears, while dresses and other formal wear should be cleaned after each use.

  6. Can I dry clean my clothes at home?

    Yes, DIY dry cleaning is possible with at-home kits, but they may not be as effective at removing stains or cleaning delicate fabrics as professional services.

  7. What is the difference between dry cleaning and laundering?

    Dry cleaning uses chemical solvents to clean clothes, while laundering involves washing clothes with water and detergent.

  8. How does dry cleaning remove stains?

    Dry cleaning solvents are effective at dissolving greasy and oily stains, which are not water-soluble.

  9. Are there any eco-friendly alternatives to traditional dry cleaning?

    Yes, green dry cleaning methods that use environmentally friendly solvents are becoming increasingly popular.

  10. How to select a good dry cleaning service?

    Consider factors like reputation, services offered, turn-around time, pricing, and whether they use environmentally friendly practices.

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